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Maunsell’s ‘Magnificent Seven’

John Bartlett, left, and Bill Maunsell with the feral sheep. PHOTOS/ARTHUR HAWKES

Rogue sheep returned – after six years
They say lightning never strikes twice, but the same can no longer be said for enormous, feral sheep, Arthur Hawkes reports.

After the emergence of ‘Gizzy Shrek’ only five days ago – a lost Hawke’s Bay ewe who returned from the wild with a 13kg monster fleece – seven massive feral sheep have just been recovered from a Tinui pine forest, clearly not wanting to be outdone by the northern newcomer.

The sheep broke away from Tinui farmer Bill Maunsell about six years ago, and have been living wild in 150 acres of pine forest ever since.

There have been several efforts to catch the mysterious septet over the years, with occasional sightings and several failed recovery attempts that ultimately left Maunsell outfoxed, or rather, outsheeped.

Over this time, their wool coats had swelled to a gigantic size.

Maunsell estimated some of the coats to be about 30cm in length from root to tip, but it had yet to be officially measured.

By and large, though, the sheep had been left to their own devices, deep in the emerald realm for more than half a decade.

Then, John Bartlett turned up.

Bartlett has been a farmer for more than 60 years and has been based in Wairarapa for 50 of those – he’s also Maunsell’s neighbour on Tinui Valley Rd and a master shepherd.

He has decades of experience shepherding on stations all over New Zealand, and is nationally renowned for his skills, especially dog handling.

So, with his three trusty New Zealand heading dogs in tow – Honk, Bluey, and Fetch – Maunsell and Bartlett set to work to finally net the nuisance herd.

From a 60.7ha pine forest, Maunsell, Bartlett and the dogs got the sheep into a pen of about 10 metres across – quite an achievement.

“The dogs did a fantastic job getting them down the hill,” Bartlett said.

Maunsell said that once sheep initially break off, you need to wait for them to reform a herd as they isolate themselves at first.

In this state, they are virtually impossible to control because they are not bonded to one another, and therefore less likely to follow those nearby.

The question now was what to do with the ‘Magnificent Seven’.

Maunsell, who now does “a bit of everything”, has diversified into forestry.

Having survived without them for six years, he’s offered them to Tinui School, which he thought could be a nice project for the schoolchildren to take care of.

The sheep have yet to be shorn, so at the moment their massive coats are still on, and in some cases quite dirty, where the wool has been dragged through the mud due to its great length.

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